This article should be read in conjunction with our May 2015 article on Mental Health Examinations.
There any number of child related issues that may arise in a divorce or parentage matter. Frequently, the most intractable issue are those which pertain to the mental or physical fitness on the part of a party to the case. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 215 permits opposing parties and even the trial court may seek to discover relevant facts about the condition of an adverse party by requiring them to participate in an evaluation with an impartial medical professional. The evaluator may conclude and report to the court whether the party is either mentally and physically fit to function around their children without adversely affecting the children’s mental, moral, physical, or emotion well-being, or even their best interests.
If you are subject to a Rule 215 evaluation you may ask yourself, are there any limitations to evaluations if your case has concluded? Can a court abuse its discretion by ordering an evaluation? The answer, maybe a surprising, “yes.”
As the Supreme Court noted in the case of the Estate of Stevenson, Rule 215 provides, in pertinent part, that, “In any action in which the physical or mental condition of a party or of a person in his custody or legal control is in controversy, the court upon notice and for good cause shown on motion made within a reasonable time before the trial, may order the party to submit to a physical or mental examination by a physician.”
Rule 215 is, at its core, a rule of discovery, the purpose of which is to uncover facts which will assist the trier of fact to reach a correct determination of the issues before it. This rule does not permit unlimited and indiscriminate mental and physical examinations of persons, but by its terms, gives a trial court discretion to order such examinations only when certain requirements are met. The person sought to be examined must first be a party (or a person in his custody or legal control); second, the physical or mental condition of that person must be in controversy; and, third, good cause must be shown for the examination. Then, and only then, is discovery of that person’s physical or mental condition authorized by Rule 215.
Timing though becomes important by both the petitioning party and the trial court. As the Appellate Court noted in the case of In re the Custody of Scott, the trial court itself can order the examination “at any time during the trial.” This means that by its own decision, the judge may order a party to complete a Rule 215 evaluation before the conclusion of trial. In the case of In re Custody of Scott, the appealing party contended that because the order for the Rule 215 evaluation occurred after all of the evidence had been heard by the trial court and after the closing arguments of the attorneys, the trial was concluded and thus the trial court was without power to order the examination.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the term “trial” is defined as “[a] judicial examination, in accordance with law of the land, of a cause, either civil or criminal, of the issues between the parties, whether of law or fact, before a court that has jurisdiction over it.” According to the Scott case, the decision of the court rendering a final judgment on the law and evidence, is the conclusion of the trial. If a trial court has not entered a judgment on the question of child related issues, the trial is not deemed to have concluded. However, if the judgment has been entered, the trial court has no authority to order a Rule 215 examination.
Regardless of dictionary definitions, the principles of the Supreme Court Rules matter. The purpose of Rule 215 is to serve as a method of discovering certain aspect pertaining to someone’s mental or physical condition in preparation of trial, so that the trial court has the sufficient information that it needs to conclude issues pertaining to children after finding that a particular mother or father’s physical or mental condition, custody or legal control is in controversy. Ordering an examination after the conclusion of the trial does not serve that purpose. As the court explained in Custody of Scott, a trial court abuses its discretion when it orders a Rule 215 evaluation after discovery has closed and after trial has ended. While the trial court has extensive discretion in ordering evaluations take place, it should not be unchained or limitless.
If you believe that a trial court has potentially abused its discretion in ordering a Rule 215 evaluation or if you believe that you may be ordered to complete an evaluation in the future, please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Kollias, P.C. to discuss your rights with respect to the same.